Pennsylvania Blanket Chest Roy UT
West Haven, UT
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Pennsylvania Blanket Chest
Pennsylvania Blanket Chest
The beauty of hand-cut dovetails without the toil.
by Jon Stumbras
I’ve always admired old Pennsylvania blanket chests. The detailing is fantastic, from the molded tops to the scalloped bases. But for me, it’s the hand-cut dovetails that really make the old chests special. As much as I admire the look, there’s no way I have the time to develop the skill to hand-cut large-panel dovetails. Fortunately, I’ve discovered the Leigh dovetail jig. It’s given me the ability I’ve always longed for. Now I can create a timeless hand-crafted beauty, like this blanket chest, with relative ease.
The Leigh Jig
If you like dovetails, you’ll love the Leigh jig. I used the Leigh D4-24 jig because it has all the features this project demands:
• capacity for stock up to 24 in. wide and more than 3/4 in. thick (photo, below right).
• variable dovetail size and spacing for a hand-cut look (photo, below right).
• ability to cut through dovetails on the chest and half-blind dovetails on the drawers (photo at right and Fig. A, below).
The Leigh jig, on the market for more than 20 years, has a proven track record of dependability and accuracy. A fully featured jig like this will seem a bit complicated at first. Fortunately, the Leigh comes with an excellent manual. With a little practice, you’ll be able to add dovetails to your list of skills. If you take your time with each setup, label your pieces and use test pieces, you’ll have no trouble building this wonderful chest.
The Leigh D4-24 jig is well suited for this project. Adjustable fingers allow you to customize the size and spacing of your dovetails for a hand-cut look. It has capacity for boards up to 24 in. wide and more than 3/4 in. thick, which is necessary for a large project like this. Plus, it will cut both through dovetails for the case and half-blind dovetails for the drawers.
Prepare the Chest Panels
Although traditional blanket chests were often made from 7/8-in. stock, we milled our lumber to 13/16 in. That allowed us to use 4/4 stock, which was much less expensive than 5/4 material. It also allowed us to use the Leigh router bits that produce a smaller dovetail that more closely resembles the hand-cut look found on the original chests. You can use 3/4-in. stock to build this chest, but you’ll have to modify the dimensions on a few parts.
1. Joint and plane all the solid wood to 13/16 in.
2. Glue up four panels (A, B, C in Fig. B, below; Photo 1). Keep the biscuits far enough in from the ends to allow for trimming to final length and for the 13/16-in.-deep dovetails. Make a poplar practice panel to be used later.
3. Rip and crosscut the panels to final dimension.
Set Up the Jig